The Pacers started yesterday a half of a game back of Cleveland for third place. After grinding out a road victory over the undermanned Boston Celtics (hallmarked by Myles Turner backing down his defender and scoring on the block during the fourth quarter), they pulled ahead of the Cavs in the win column. A few hours later, they seized control of third when Cleveland found themselves on the wrong side of a 22-3 run and failed to do what they were supposed to do against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Given the fluid nature of the standings, every game makes a difference. Such will be the case tomorrow when the Pacers travel to Philly in search of clinching the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Sixers, with only two games separating the teams currently seeded third and sixth in the East.
Since the start of February, Indiana and Philadelphia have both held opponents below 103 points per 100 possessions, which is good for top five in the league over that span of time.
Joel Embiid looked tired when his team got outworked on the road by the Miami Heat while he battled foul trouble last week (more on this later), but Philadelphia’s lineup with him on the floor alongside Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric has been an absolute beast, drubbing opponents by a league-best 17.1 points per 100 possessions among five-man units that have played at least 350 minutes.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Pacers after Tuesday’s high-stakes match-up, either.
They’re still slated to be in action every other day until they face the Kings on March 29, and eleven of their final 15 games are against opponents with winning records, including meetings with two of the league’s top three teams before the end of the month.
So, yeah, it mattered that they didn’t allow another game to get away against Boston, especially without Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, and (later) Kyrie Irving.
How things currently stand...
If the season ended today...
Tomorrow’s regular season series finale against the Sixers would be a playoff preview. To a certain extent, these teams have the potential to bring out the best and worst aspects of each other. The Pacers are 18-21 when they get outrebounded, and the Sixers have the league’s top rebounding rate. On the flip side, Philly also has the league’s highest turnover rate, and Indiana leads the Eastern Conference in points scored off turnovers per 100 possessions as well as fast break points per 100 possessions.
According to basketball reference, the Pacers are 20-11 when their opponent commits at least 15 turnovers and 19-17 when they don’t.
Back in February, Indiana caused 18 turnovers and won by eight points in Embiid’s first back-to-back despite getting crushed in second chance points, 16-2.
And that was with Philly’s unicorn center basically rendering Myles Turner nonexistent, as Indiana’s 21-year-old shot-blocker with the feathery mid-range jump shot picked up two fouls in the first three minutes and 10 seconds of the game and finished with zero points in 15 minutes of action.
So, the Pacers can win getting out-muscled on the glass as long as they can create easy transition opportunities and get away with Bojan Bogdanovic checking the length and playmaking of Ben Simmons in order to conserve the energy of Victor Oladipo.
(3) Indiana Pacers (39-28) vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers (36-29)
Some odds and ends...
As of this morning, ESPN’s BPI playoff odds are giving the Pacers a near-to-certain 99.7 percent chance of making the playoffs but project them to go 6-9 over their final 15 games, a win-loss percentage which would drop them to the seventh seed and into a first round match-up with the Boston Celtics.
In that scenario, Philadelphia would wrestle away control of third place while Washington and Miami would also move ahead of the Pacers.
A modest slide doesn’t seem out of the question for Cleveland. Their refreshed roster has gone an underwhelming 4-6 since the All-Star break, and they’ve hemorrhaged 109.3 points per 100 possessions over their last 10 games, a mark which continues to place them in the bottom third of the league despite personnel changes.
Philly’s closing schedule is incredibly soft, but Joel Embiid has played more minutes than ever before in his career and he’s seems to be showing some signs of cumulative fatigue. He shot 5-of-18 from the field against the Heat on Thursday, and he’s committed five fouls in half of his team’s last eight games.
He bounced back with 21 points on 9-of-17 shooting against Brooklyn’s thin interior depth on Sunday, but he could have had four full days of rest if the Sixers had made the decision to sit him out before tomorrow’s tiebreaker-deciding game with the Pacers.
By comparison, Philly has eight more games against team’s with losing records than Indiana.
On the other hand, the Pacers only have one game left to play with 0 days rest (a doozy in Toronto the night after facing off against the Warriors at Bankers Life Fieldhouse), whereas the Sixers have four, including their final game of the season against the Milwaukee Bucks which has the potential to impact seeding.
Thus far, Embiid has logged 30-plus minutes in each of his team’s last four games played on the second night of a back-to-back. Even so, the decision of whether to push for home court advantage or prioritize rest seems like a delicate balance worth monitoring.
As for the Wizards, they’ve dropped four of six games against teams with winning records since jumping out to an impressive 10-4 record without John Wall, so it seems that the scouting report and lack of rest for the weary has finally started to catch up to them.
Beyond Tuesday’s final head-to-head meeting with the Sixers, the Pacers will also be searching for tiebreakers against the Wizards on Saturday as well as the Miami Heat, who are fresh off earning consecutive wins over Washington and Philly, on March 25.
Detroit and Charlotte still haven’t been mathematically eliminated, but it would take an epic collapse for the Pacers to miss the playoffs. If Indiana goes 6-9 as projected, then the Pistons would have to go 15-1 over their final 16 games to tie them and the Hornets couldn’t pass them even if they went a perfect 15-0.
In the event of a tie...
With the Cleveland Cavaliers: The Pacers (3-1) hold the head-to-head win-loss percentage tiebreaker.
With the Detroit Pistons: The Pistons (3-1) hold the head-to-head win-loss percentage tiebreaker.
With the Milwaukee Bucks: The Pacers (3-1) hold the head-to-head win-loss percentage tiebreaker.
With the Philadelphia 76ers: The regular season series is currently tied (1-1), with the final meeting between the two teams slated for March 13.
With the Washington Wizards: The regular season series is currently tied (1-1) with the final meeting between the two teams slated for March 17.
With the Miami Heat: The regular season series is currently tied (1-1) with the final meeting between the two teams slated for March 25.